As palace revolts go, last week's power struggle in the kingdom of pro golf was like a fireworks display without the gunpowder. At first it evoked nasty images of rebel golfers dug in behind a bunker, lobbing wedge shots upon Commissioner Deane Beman's Washington, D.C. headquarters while Mean Deane fired back with his mimeograph machine. It ended, however, with a whimper: a barrage of legal papers and a surrender from Beman.
Although there were side issues, basically the war concerned the Tournament of Champions, that fun event the players regard almost as fondly as a one-putt green. When Beman and the tour's Policy Board decided that the tournament would be canceled in 1976, you would have thought ball washers had been outlawed. "Why not cancel Christmas, too," said golfer Jerry McGee.
His comment was understandable, for earlier in the year he had won his first tournament, the Pensacola Open, thus qualifying for the exclusive T. of C. field. "It's the second thing a player thinks about when he wins a tournament," said Dave Stockton. "The first is that he's in the Masters. Beman should know what it means to a player because he was a player himself."
The commissioner said he had canceled the tournament because its format too closely mirrored the new and expanded World Series of Golf planned for next year, which also would include many tournament winners. But there were rumors that the real reason for the ban was that the tournament host and co-sponsor, the La Costa Country Club, resembles a small-town girl with a besmirched reputation. Everyone whispers behind her back, even if they've never dated her. The resort features 57 varieties of saunas, massages and buffet tables, and has long attracted a stylish clientele. But it was also reputed to be the romping ground for heavy hitters driving bulletproof golf carts. Last week the La Costa hierarchy decided that even if they spell your name right, not all publicity is good. A group of nine plaintiffs associated with La Costa filed a $540 million libel suit against Penthouse magazine, which alleged in a recent issue that the spa had more connections with the underworld than Joseph Valachi. About this, Beman took the Fifth. "No comment," he said.
At first, the players' reaction was one of dismay coupled with resignation; the T. of C. was almost as much of a tour fixture as Sam Snead. It had been played for 23 years, first in Las Vegas, then at La Costa, which is just north of San Diego. But, slowly, like water over a hot flame, the emotions of the players came to a boil. Golfers love to complain—it keeps their minds off double bogeys—and around the practice tee and the locker room as the tour moved from Dallas to New Orleans, Memphis and Atlanta, the players were advising and dissenting. "I've never seen so many guys upset over any one thing," said Miller Barber at last week's Atlanta Classic, which Hale Irwin was to win, his first victory since last year's U.S. Open. On Tuesday night there was to be a players' meeting at which Beman and the Policy Board were scheduled to appear. There even was speculation that Beman would resign.
Actually there was no chance of a Beman abdication. He is given to saying that while he has a three-year contract, he has a lifetime commitment. His position is unique. He has more power than any commissioner in sports, since most of the others are public-relations figureheads who do little more than hold press conferences, deny protests, throw out first balls and administer the wishes of owners' committees. Beman's decisions must be approved by the Policy Board, composed of four tournament players, three Professional Golfers Association members and three businessmen, but the board rarely countermands his edicts. However, his owners are the players, a group of approximately 300 golfers who belong to the Tournament Players Division of the PGA, and when they are as concerned as they were over the T. of C. issue, Beman has little choice but to acquiesce to their demands.
The players were not only upset with Beman's decision, but with his method of arriving at it. He did not consult the players' seven-man Advisory Board, headed by Bob Rosburg. This group has no voting power but serves as liaison between the touring pros and the administration. Also, Beman still shares the athlete's suspicious view of the press. Earlier in the year when a controversy erupted between the TPD and the sponsors of the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope tournaments over the division of revenue, among other things, Beman refused comment rather than air the squabble in the newspapers. Many players felt that they were made to appear greedy. This time Beman telephoned several prominent pros and instructed them not to comment on the cancellation of the Tournament of Champions. That order stuck like a golf tee in some throats.
At the Memphis tournament two weeks ago, Tommy Jacobs, a former touring pro who now runs golf operations at La Costa, showed up to generate support for reinstatement. He found that all he had to do was sit around and listen. Golfers like Billy Casper and Dave Stockton and Miller Barber spoke with Beman almost daily, urging him to reconsider. At Atlanta, Casper said, "He sends out letters saying we ought to support our sponsors. It looks like he ought to be supporting them a little more. These people have been great to us for 20 years."
"I don't know what to say until after the meeting tonight," commented Johnny Miller. "Personally, I'd like all of the tournaments to be played in California."
Most of the pros were mumbling, but their discontent with Beman did not forebode much action beyond that. "This talk about a rebellion is silly," said Hubert Green. "It makes us sound as if we've got six-guns in our golf bags. Nobody agrees with everything that Beman's done but I don't think he's done a bad job. You can't get all the pros to agree on what day it is, much less anything else."